Merkel's scandal-stricken party limps toward likely defeats in major state elections months before Germans elect the next chancellor
Merkel will not run for a sixth term as leader of the German government, but her center-right party of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has yet to elect their candidate. The CDU is suffering a dip in support due to the worse-than-expected rollout of Covid-19 vaccines and a recent corruption scandal involving party members. Regional elections in Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, which the Christian Democrats go to expectation could set the tone for the vote in September.
Baden-Wuerttemberg has approximately 7,7 million eligible voters and is an industrial powerhouse known for its auto manufacturers. Long considered a CDU stronghold, a decade ago the party was sidelined by Winfried Kretschmann, who became prime minister of the state in 2011 after his Green Party became a junior member in a ruling coalition. The popular politician remains in power and has a prominent influence on the entire party. He has managed to steer it away from a more radical environmental agenda and towards left-wing centrism.
Kretschmann is carrying out a message of fame by adopting the slogan 'You know me' for his campaign, undermining Merkel's own explanation of her enduring leadership of Germany. The Greens lead the CDU by 10 percent in the polls, so Kretschmann will almost certainly hold office and is expected to bolster the Greens' presence in the regional parliament. The current ruling coalition in Baden-Wuerttemberg lists the Christian Democrats as a junior partner among the Greens.
The neighboring state of Rhineland-Palatinate, home to 3,1 million eligible voters, has been firmly in the hands of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) for three decades. The party currently has a small lead over the CDU in the polls, backed by popular governor Malu Dreyer. She runs a thrilling race against Christian Democratic contender Christian Baldauf.
The region is governed by a CDU / SPD coalition, like Germany itself, but unlike in the national parliament, the Rhineland-Palatinate Social Democrats have more seats than the Christian Democrats.
Sunday's poll comes amid growing disillusionment with the CDU among the German public. The party enjoyed widespread popularity in early 2020, when Merkel's government was praised for efficiently tackling the Covid-19 epidemic. But perception changed this year, as the vaccine's introduction proved disappointing, with Germans accusing Merkel of ceding too much authority to Brussels and blaming the government for a protracted national lockdown.
The approval numbers can continue to drop after a corruption scandal the CDU has hit. Three MPs were forced to resign after being charged with taking bribes for contracting personal protective equipment. The linked scandals erupted earlier this month, so it remains unclear how much they will affect the election outcome as many voters cast their votes early due to the Covid-19 situation.
If the predictions come true and the CDU performs poorly in the state elections, that would be a bad sign for Armin Laschet, who won the party leadership in January. Laschet will not necessarily be the one to run for the chancellor's office in September. Markus Soder, the leader of the CDU's Bavarian sister party, the CSU, which also heads the region, is another possible candidate. Laschet said the appointment could be decided by the Allies in April or May.
In June, ahead of the national poll, the state of Saxony-Anhalt will hold regional elections, another test of Laschet's leadership. Two German regions will also elect municipal officials: Hesse on Sunday and Lower Saxony on September 12. Two weeks later, on federal election day, people in Berlin, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Thuringia vote for their representatives. in their respective regions.